5.14.2011

Jobs You Don't See on CSI #3: Forensic Seismology


OK, so what is forensic seismology? When most people think of seismology they think of earthquakes. Forensic seismology came about during the Cold War as a means of detecting and measuring nuclear tests by the Soviet Union, China, and others.
In the 1990s scientists studying seismology near the Chile-Bolivian border noticed many small tremors high up in the Andes mountains. The tremors occurred always at night and in the same remote area. Further investigation proved that the tremors were being made by trucks carrying untaxed goods and narcotics across the border. With practice the scientists could pinpoint the location and direction which they forwarded to law enforcement.
Today scientists can access some 16,000 plus seismic devices all over the world via the internet and listen to such "noises" as explosions, air crashes, and mine explosions, even meteor strikes. Forensic seismology has been used in the investigation of 9/11, the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, the Lockerbie crash, and drug smuggling along the US-Mexican border to ferret out tunnels. From a law enforcement PoV if a person or group were experimenting with homemade explosives the resulting explosion's location could be triangulated and its strength determined. Insurance companies use the data when investigating the aforementioned types of accidents.
How do I become a forensic seismologist? Well, a degree in geology or one of its sub-branches like hydrology, or audiology or some other related science is a must. There are a number of amateurs who help analyze the data as well. If interested see the link below.
Pay: amount of pay varies as some forensic seismologists are employed by universities, insurance companies, or governments. Many of them work in other fields and occasionally in forensics while a handful work and research the subject full time.



Further Reading:
Public Seismic Network http://psn.quake.net/
British Government's Seismic Group http://www.blacknest.gov.uk/
Excellent article from Cosmos magazine http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/features/online/2604/forensic-seismology
Fingerprinting Explosions http://scienceblog.com/563/researcher-uses-forensic-seismology-to-fingerprint-mystery-explosions/

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